|Leaf Shape||Fern-like leaflet stalk|
|Mature Height||40 feet|
|Best Habitat||Warm, tropical and desert-like regions|
|Best Climate||Warm to hot|
|Output||Yellow or white flowers. Seed pods.|
|Uses||Hardwood, Gum Arabic, Flavoring, Perfume, Seeds|
Few exotic trees are as widely cultivated and versatile as the Acacia tree. While its unique shape and blossoms are eye-catching, the Acacia's appearance reveals just a hint of its functions. Recognizing the many aspects of your life that are impacted by the Acacia will help you truly appreciate all the tree has to offer.
Appearance of the Tree
The Acacia's distinctive leaves make the tree highly distinguishable. While there are more than 800 species of the Acacia trees around the world, most feature small, finely divided green leaflets that give the stalk a fernlike appearance.
Meanwhile, in other species, which grow in the desert and see very little rain, leaves are absent all together. Instead, the stalks perform the functions of leaves and can appear as sharp spines or large thorns.
Another distinguishing appearance of the Acacia tree is its blossoms. The small, fragrant flowers are:
- Arranged in compact cylindrical clusters
- Yellow in color, though some species produce white blooms
- Fuzzy with multiple stamens per flower
- Positioned on the edge of airy branches
Most Acacia trees have short lifespans of 15 to 30 years. Consequently, they tend to grow quickly and can reach heights in excess of 40 feet. In addition to the stunning yellow and white blooms, the Acacia produces a dry seedpod as its fruit. Each pod is about three inches long and contains five to six brownish black seeds. The combination of its feathery leaves, globular flowers and dry seedpods creates a dramatic appearance during the tree's peak growing years.
The Acacia is one of the largest species of trees in the world with more than 800 different types growing in warm, tropical and desert-like regions of both hemispheres.
Among the most popular types are:
- Flat-topped Acacia: Typically found on the savannahs of South Africa, the top of the trees resemble a ledge.
- Swollen-thorn Acacias: Thrives in Central America; its seed pods form a notable symbiotic association with ants.
- Koa Acacia: Native to Hawaii, the tree is known for its dark hardwood. The tree is prized for its variety of grains which ranges from plain, to curly, to deep fiddleback.
- Flowering Acacia: There are two types of Flowering Acacias. The baileyana species of Acacias are known for their yellow flower clusters. The farnesiana species is known its spiny shrub-like appearance which contains many fragrant blossoms that attract numerous insect pollinators.
Where the Acacia Grows
More than half of the Acacia species grow in Australia where the tree is commonly referred to as "wattle." Meanwhile, the remainder thrive in warm, temperate climates found in:
- Central America
- South Carolina
Outside of Australia, you can find hearty shrub-like versions of wattle growing in the coastal dunes of California and along the highways of southern Arizona. In addition, flowering Acacia trees are used as natural elements at San Diego's Wild Animal Park, while Central American Bullhorn Acacias are prevalent in El Salvador. Finally, the remote Hawaiian Island of Molokai is home to a number of thriving indigenous Koa Acacia forests, all of which are closely guarded as the wood from the trees is highly-prized and extremely valuable.
The Acacia tree's sturdy branches and durable trunk made the species an invaluable resource for shipbuilder's in the 1700s. These days, a number of Acacia species have become important economic boosters in third world countries, such as India, Africa and parts of Asia where nearly the entire tree is cultivated and used to make vital products.
Some of the most popular uses for the tree include:
- Wood: Used to make flooring, furniture, jewelry, weapons and toys.
- Gum Arabic: A substance used in adhesives, some medicines, and as a thickening agent in frozen desserts.
- Tannin: Found in the bark of the tree, tannin is used to dye ink.
- Blossoms: Added as a flavoring to desserts and liqueur. The flower's essential oils are also used in perfumes.
- Seeds: Some can be eaten raw or ground and added to sauces.
In the United States, Acacia can be found listed as an ingredient in popular beverages, such as:
- Sun Drop
- RC Cola
- Barq's Root Beer
- Strawberry-Lemonade Powerade
In addition, the gum Arabic cultivated from some Acacia trees is used in Altoids mints, Wrigley's Eclipse chewing gum and M&Ms pretzels.
The Acacia tree has an storied past, from its introduction in Europe by a herbalist to Henri IV in 1601 to its addition to various botanical gardens throughout North America in the late 1960s.
The tree's eye-popping white and yellow blossoms were made popular by the early American Indians, who used them as gifts to woo unsuspecting females.
Other interesting facts about the Acacia tree include:
- Giraffes and cattle love to chew on its leaves.
- Acacia tree thorns house stinging ants who live off the tree's nectar.
- Butterflies are attracted to Acacia trees.
- The thorns of the Central American Bullhorn Acacias are commonly strung into necklaces and belts.
The most common disease that affects the Acacia tree is an infection of the leaves called anthracnose. The aggressive fungi moves into stem tissue and can destroy a tree quickly if no action is taken.
In addition, the bark of the Acacia tree is also prone to damage caused by goat moths, which can feed inside tree trunks for up to five years.
Other pests you want to keep away from your Acacia tree include:
- Woolly aphids
Adding Acacia trees to your landscape is not difficult provided you live in a warm climate. The exotic tree thrives in hot, dry regions. What's more, the tree does best when planted in medium porous and well-drained soil.
To further benefit your Acacia, consider following these simple tips:
- Do not water your Acacia tree every day. It grows better in slightly dry conditions.
- Use minimal fertilizer. Recently planted Acacia trees benefit from fertilizer every 15-20 days. However, once the tree has matured, you should only be using fertilizer once every 4 to 6 weeks.
- Acacias need to be pruned from time to time. The best time to do this is on a hot, dry day. Also, you should only remove dead limbs from the tree and avoid pruning leafy areas.
Acacias require direct sunlight in order to grow and thrive, so you want to plant your tree away from the shade of buildings or other trees.